Cacio & Pepe – Finally
It’s almost unavoidable. In most restaurants in Rome, be they tourist traps or hidden neighborhood trattorie, there are three pasta dishes you are sure to find on the menu: spaghetti alla carbonara, bucatini all’amatriciana, and tonnarelli cacio e pepe. The pasta used might change, but the dishes are always there.
Carbonara has been my favorite since my mother made it when I was little. L’Amatriciana is common in L’Aquila, with Maccaroni alla chitarra. Both dishes are like old friends
But, in twenty years of visiting Rome and living in Abruzzo, I have never, ever had tonnarelli cacio e pepe. Until last night.
Pierluigi and I were on another exploratory trip to the Testaccio neighborhood with our old friends Fabrizio and Manuela, who suggested “Da Oio” A Casa Mia. Luckily, a table was free.
A word of warning, I loved the place. If the word “Roman” can be used as an adjective to describe a certain way of eating out – from wine in a chipped ceramic pitcher, to the food, to the attitude of the staff, few places would fit the word as well as “Da Oio” A Casa Mia. Trattorie like this are not for everyone. A quick skimming of online reader reviews and it becomes apparent that there is no middle ground: the reviews are either filled with repulsion or with love.
Places like ”Da Oio” A Casa Mia need to be taken at their terms, not yours. This does not mean that the service is rude in the strictest sense, but it does mean that if you don’t fit in, you might have to show a bit of testosterone, unless you want to be miserable through dinner and until you get home to write the bad review. So, if you’re served something you don’t want–– a bottle of mineral water just as you sit down––wave it off with a glare and things with go smoothly.
Think about it, if the food was bad, why would a place in a tiny neighborhood full of restaurants be packed on a Tuesday night? If you want fawning service, go somewhere else.
Testaccio is where Rome’s main meat market once was (that building now houses a civic contemporary art museum). What better place than the meat district to try the cuts you would never dream of eating at home: marinated tongue, nervetti (veal tendons), coratella (a dry stew of chopped liver, lung and other organs). Manuella ordered nervetti and tongue and she offered me a taste. I’ve never had nervetti that were this tender. But it was the tonarelli cacio e pepe that made the night really special. Tonarelli are like bucatini, without the hole in the middle. This hearty, long pasta was coated in a thick sauce made from pecorino cheese, oil and freshly crushed black pepper. It was a dish you could sink your teeth into.
And, that’s just what we did.
“Da Oio” A Casa Mia – Via N. Galvani, 43-45 – Testaccio, Rome
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